Ofahengaue puts Origin dream on hold
Broncos forward Joe Ofahengaue has put his dream of playing Origin for Queensland on hold so that he can represent Tonga at the Rugby League World Cup in 2017.
After playing 14 games in his rookie NRL season this year, Ofahengaue will play his first for Tonga on Saturday against the Cook Islands at Campbelltown, effectively ruling him out of selection for Queensland and Australia for the next two years.
At 20 years of age time is certainly on Ofahengaue's side but he said making the call to Tonga coach Kristian Woolf to declare his immediate allegiance to the nation of his heritage was still a difficult one.
"Growing up as a young kid, everyone with a Tongan background wants to play for their country and when 'Woolfy' called me I was pretty excited but I also had to worry about my eligibility," Ofahengaue told NRL.com from Tonga camp.
"In playing for Tonga I'm going to miss out on Queensland and Australia selections and that's something that I've thought about.
"I talked to a few of the players at the club. I rang Adam Blair after I got the call-up from Woolfy and he just said whatever decision you make to make sure it's the right one and to back yourself. I talked to Mum and Dad and they said they'd back me 100 per cent.
"Making that phone call to Woolfy was the hardest thing because I knew I'd have to sit out Australia or Queensland but it doesn't really worry me because I'm still young.
"I asked Wayne [Bennett] as well and he said it was up to me and I made my decision on Sunday before we came into camp so I'm pretty excited for the week and to put on the Tonga jersey."
Ofahengaue was considered for selection in the Tonga team for the Test against Samoa in May but on that occasion elected to stay within his age group so that he could represent the Junior Kangaroos and subsequently the Queensland under-20s.
Selecting his team is never straightforward for Woolf but he said he was delighted to receive the phone call from Ofahengaue last week informing him that he would be joining the team in camp.
"We get lots of guys who make lots of commitments in different ways. It's a long season and all the boys who play here make a real big commitment," Woolf said.
"Joe's made a massive commitment in saying that he wants to stick with Tonga for the next two years.
"He's a young bloke and is developing really well so I'm not sure where he'll be in two years – he may certainly be in a position where he's some consideration for a Queensland team – but when he range me he seemed very comfortable with his decision.
"He said that it was a game he wanted to play in and be a part of and he was very comfortable in deciding that he wanted to play for Tonga."
Given they went down by just two points to a Samoan team ranked 11 places above them on the Rugby League International Federation world rankings in May, it seems somewhat inconceivable that Tonga could miss a place in the 2017 World Cup but that's exactly the situation they find themselves in.
Only a win against the Cook Islands will ensure Tonga's place in international rugby league's showpiece event which was a big factor in Ofahengaue making the commitment that he has to play for Tonga.
"It's just the pride in being Tongan. I love my Tongan background and I try to give back to the community as much as I can and doing this is another box ticked of one of my dreams," he said.
"I'm really happy with the decision I made and I'm just going to have to stick it out for the next two years.
"After the World Cup I'll be eligible for Queensland and Australia so I see this game as a very important game not just for us but for the whole nation.
"There's a lot of pressure on us to win this game but the boys have been prepping well and everyone is pretty excited for the game."